Much to my eternal pleasure, I am once again a gardener.
We’ll see where this reestablished passion goes but when I say “eternal pleasure” I mean that, for a gardener, it is all about process — the destination is never reached.
At various times during my life I have been bitten by the gardening bug but for various reasons, the malady never had the chance to fully take. Chalk it up to a rock and roll lifestyle and transience.
I was in my early 20s when I was first bitten. At that time, I lived in a basement apartment of an elderly relative in a Washington, D.C., suburb. What began as yard work to pay off some of my rent turned into a full fledged landscaping project. Dead and dying shrubs were torn out and replaced with hardier species. The slope in the backyard was tiered with railroad ties and planted with a mixture of ground cover, shrubs, grasses perennials and annuals. A dead tree was taken out and replaced with a stately Ash. My relative was beside herself as the yard took on a brand new look, alive with color and revived.
It was that first experience that taught me that gardening is a daily endeavor and not just a single shot: anything freshly planted required huge amounts of water as well as needing to be protected from weeds (which thrived in the disturbed earth and daily watering regimen). Cutting and pruning was needed to bring out fuller leaf and flower growth.
None of that deterred me. The work required, the dead plants that needed to be replaced, all of it only served to make me more determined. It was then that I learned a well-tended garden is like an ongoing art project that evolves over time and literally takes on a life of its own.
Unfortunately, I moved away and for the next few years I was restricted to apartment terrace gardens, window boxes and pots, all annuals mixed in with a few herbs. Sometimes my efforts were spoiled by drunken neighbors staggering home from the bar and stumbling into my terrace garden, knocking over pots or stomping on window boxes.
Sometimes, up late and reading, I’d hear the calamity, the crash and them swearing, then catch them as they attempted to leave the scene of the accident.
“Dude, that’s messed up,” I’d say, holding them accountable for the mass of soil, strewn flowers and pottery shards littering my doorway.
Sometimes, they’d offer to pay. For that, there was a 20 percent markup.
Once, I had a neighbor die on the steps of my apartment complex. He’d drunkenly stumbled home from the bar and apparently was too intoxicated to navigate the concrete steps, fell, hit his head and met his demise.
He’d borrowed about $200 worth of tools from me earlier that week and, while I sympathized with his family in their moment of tragedy, I was not reluctant to ask to go through the mess that was his apartment in order to get my tools back. They refused my request and I wonder if, to this day, they think of me as the jerk who wanted tools.
However, to the dead neighbors credit, he never destroyed any of paltry terrace garden during one of his drunken, late-night perambulations.
My next attempt at real gardening took place when I rented a house with a bunch of hippies. Since the yard was essentially one huge weed bed (that no one wanted to mow), my housemates were all too happy to see me go to work on the property.
After rototilling a large patch of the back yard, I availed myself to a first attempt at vegetable gardening. Putting in squashes, cucumber, zucchini, corn, carrots, radishes, tomatoes, peppers and watermelon, I was amazed at how easy it was to feed a houseful of hippies prone to intermittent fits of the munchies.
Our small patch of front yard was well seeded with indigenous wildflowers — no real gardening required there. Likewise, I lined the back fence with primrose and morning glory (we were determined to harvest seeds for consciousness expansion purposes), both of which did well on the chain link lattice.
The cannabis garden was, of course, consigned to the basement and subjected to sodium halide lights and a carefully monitored environment.
We may have been blissed out stoners but we weren’t complete idiots. In fact, the hops we grew on the west and south sides of the house were intended to mask the smell of our subterranean garden.
After the hippie house experience, I was again restricted to apartment terrace gardens or working gardens that were not my own. I did a fair amount of work landscaping my parents’ yard and gardening when I could. Unfortunately, they lived a good 40-minute drive from me and between kids, the jay oh bee and gas prices, I was unable to stay on top of the task at hand: as I said, gardening really requires daily attention and my folks just weren’t up to the task of weeding and watering.
If you’re going to choose to tend a garden, walking distance is the only way to go.
Since moving to Pagosa, I’ve been champing at the bit to begin gardening again. Although I had a brief start during my brief marriage, it was just a start. In fact, I may never know if anything I did there at our shared home ever took off.
And that, my friends, entirely misses the point. Just like what was done at my parent’s house, the inability to dip my fingers into the dirt on a daily basis hardly defines what it is to be a gardener.
Small wonder winter can be such a depressing time for me. Planning my garden, making lists of plants I’d like to put in after frost danger has passed ... it only adds to the frustration of not being out in the yard, getting my first warm weather sunburn of the year, my first shovel or trowel callouses, my first aching back.
After building my house with Habitat for Humanity, I was on needles and pins awaiting the landscaping — the final part of the process in a Habitat home.
On Saturday, that final piece fell into place.
At about 9 a.m., members of the Rocky Mountain Garden Club and other volunteers began rolling in with their gardening gloves, tools, donated plants and expertise.
Although the group is known as “The Crabbie Ladies” (the reason escapes me, I witnessed no crabbiness), I saw them as a host of angels: industrious, smart, strong and with a collective ambition that was beyond my comprehension. By lunchtime, my yard (which had previously been a plane of dirt and clay) had become, by far, the most beautiful yard in the neighborhood.
At first it was overwhelming. I was pulled a dozen different ways as they all weighed in on what should go where, dragging trees and shrubs around to proposed spots then commiserating on the wisdom of that there or maybe it wouldn’t go better here?
It was a dizzying process. Unable to focus on any one task (being pulled in so many directions), I made myself useful by off-loading bags of potting soil and digging whatever holes were needed. At one point, I opened the windows to my home and blasted out Brahms’ 4th Symphony (a perfect piece for putting a garden together, I thought).
Later, as details began to fall into place and the general shape of the yard began to become defined, I put on a number of Beethoven’s string quartets — a little less energetic than Brahms, a little lighter to lead us to the end of our task.
And, here again, I’m a gardener by the grace, wisdom and hard work of The Crabbies. With no kids with me this summer, my evening are nonetheless full: pulling weeds, pruning, watering and then propping my feet up on the railing of my porch as I sit back and enjoy a cold beer, admiring my beautiful yard.
All Xeriscaping (both drought tolerant and resistant plants), my task this summer is to nurture the perfection planted by The Crabbies. Although I know next summer will not require the watering that this season calls for (as the plants take hold and become established), I am well into being a gardener, experiencing eternal pleasure.
As to the destination: Archuleta County Habitat for Humanity is building their 22nd and 23rd houses this summer. Of course donations of any building materials are welcome, plants for landscaping those homes are likewise encouraged (although those houses will not likely start landscaping until late spring 2012). As always, labor is always needed in helping to build this year’s homes — any and all skill levels are encouraged to help with the build. Also, anyone preferring to provide lunches for Habitat volunteers (as opposed to providing construction assistance) during build days are welcome to come out to the site with food to feed the volunteers.
Call 264-6960 if you’re interested in volunteering to help build a home, want to provide lunch, or care to donate building materials, plants for landscaping or monetary assistance for the program.